Finding that perfect sample for your track can seem daunting at first. You may think back to the '80s and '90s when sampling wasn't so simple. Digging through crates and listening to records for hours just to find the right slice. While some may have enjoyed their search, others found it to be tedious, thus abandoning their sample hunt and ultimately what could have been a great new hit.
Nowadays, it's a trivial experience to find audio samples online. Everywhere you look someone is conjuring up a new pack full of loops, melodies, or drum samples - and most of it you can find for the low price of zero dollars. But with such an abundance of free audio floating around out there, how do you decide on where to look first? Let us lend a hand. We're here to help you sift through the rubble and discover the best sounds for your next track without spending a dime. Continue reading below to find the internet's top free audio sample resources of 2021.
Where to Find Free Sound Effects
Zapsplat makes it onto the list for its extensive library of royalty-free samples. Covering a range of subjects from animal and human sounds to sci-fi and war-like sounds that are sure to amplify your production. They also have many free sample packs and some royalty-free music if you need to finish something fast. Zapsplat's free membership allows for the use of their sounds in almost any production so long as you simply throw a small credit their way. Should you want to opt out of the attribution requirements, obtaining that license is less than 5 dollars. For the number of quality sounds they have to offer, this is a great tradeoff.
Freesound.org features tons of user-submitted sounds with a wide range of sonic options. With daily uploads and seemingly endless categories, it's no wonder why they just surpassed over 500k sounds a few months ago. Freesound.org sets itself apart in a few other unique ways as well. Their overall aim is to be a collaborative database of sound effects and other audio samples contributed by users and cleared for commercial use. With this collaborative focus, they also allow users to upload and download under the same creative commons license. What really makes the site stand out though is the ability to interact with other users. You can send messages, leave comments on sounds, and chat via forum posts - features that aren't present on any other platform.
YouTube Audio Library
YouTube’s Audio Library is a convenient way to find free samples and sound effects. The platform requires a Google or YouTube account, but for good reason. Their ever-growing and easy to sort through collection has been in the works since 2014 and features thousands of inspiring samples for use in your next track. Alongside their collection of foley, sound effects, and ambiances is a huge section of free music for you to browse through and chop up if you're feeling super creative. The Audio Library licensing is cut and dry as well - you are free to use the sounds and music in your videos and productions so long as you aren't selling them individually or using them in something illegal. That means producers can use and manipulate these samples without worrying about someone coming after them or their music.
BBC Sound Effects
While the YouTube Audio Library certainly has an excellent collection of free samples, it is a small hill when compared to the mountain of sounds that BBC offers. For the past 100 years, they have gathered nearly 40,000 sounds from past BBC TV and Radio productions that you can sort through by category and even the continent that they were recorded on. They also feature close to 15,000 sounds from the Natural History Unit archive - a long-standing collection of sounds compiled mainly from the 1960s to the 2000s. These sounds were created for use in productions where a majority of the sounds needed to be added in post. The collection has one other trick up its sleeve - the platform features an audio mixer that you can add sounds to and preview before you download, meaning you can scrub through and find the perfect sample without wasting hard drive space and having to spend time deleting unwanted sounds.
Free To Use Sounds
Free To Use Sounds is a couple that started traveling the world in 2017 with the simple goal of recording sounds for others to use. Fast forward to the present day and they have been on recording missions in over 20 countries and gathered thousands of sounds. Their expertise has been recognized by some of the biggest names in the audio industry, but they stay humble with a focus on their sounds being for everyone from film students to video game developers. And while they do offer the samples they gather for free, they certainly don't skimp on quality. The couple is quite active on social media, often documenting their trips and the top-of-the-line microphones and recorders that they use. They even use equipment like hydrophones to record underwater and contact microphones to record vibrations meaning you're in for some truly unique samples from Free To Use Sounds.
Cymatics.FM Free Samples
Cymatic.FM makes its way onto the list because they offer some excellent free downloads in the form of drum loops, vocals, melodies, and more! For the synthesizer-savvy producers and engineers, Cymatics features tons of presets for you to explore in synths like Massive and Serum. They also have a talented team of producers and sound designers crafting their sounds, and the database refreshes from time to time meaning you're bound to score some fresh sounds by keeping tabs on Cymatics.
You may be thinking to yourself "Really, Reddit?", but a good ol' Reddit search can be very fruitful when it comes to finding free samples. There are entire subreddits with thousands of members that are eager to share their latest finds. You can find everything from free music samples and loops to 100+gb sample packs full of endless material - it's all there. A site like Reddit can be great for finding your next piece of inspiration.
What was began as a simple folder hosted on a server in the basement of Canton Becker in 2001 has now grown into an extensive, hand-picked library of creations and rare finds. Users of the site are free to submit their sounds, but they ultimately must go through Canton as he determines if the sample is of high enough quality to make it to the master collection. The samples on this site are also combed for copyright to ensure that they remain royalty-free.
Sample Focus is another sample site that, like others on the internet, has content contributed by its community - but with a twist. Their main 'focus' is on creating a seamless process for artists to find a sample that matches their project without the distraction of sifting through countless samples. They have a strong tagging system that allows samples to be sorted by instrument, mood, timbre, key, and several other convenient options. The twist comes in with their download credit system. Every Monday you get 5 download credits, but in order to get more than that, you must upload sounds to the platform. Submissions can earn up to 4 credits upon approval and encourages a self-replenishing ecosystem of new sounds.
Organic Drum Loops
Organic Drum Loops is a project by Bill Mead, a long-time drummer and musician. He began the project after discovering a calfskin drum that resparked his creative passion. Now, he creates samples for nearly 20 different genres and categories and offers them all for free on his site. Additionally, these samples will allow you to get really creative in your music production with 5-6 different recordings from different microphones placed around the room included with each sample pack. Individual sounds and one-shot samples are also available on the site.
Bandlab - makers of the Cakewalk DAW - have over 15,000 royalty-free samples created by professional musicians and sound designers just waiting to be scooped up and used creatively in your next track. The sample packs on the platform feature an impressive range of underground sub-genres and experimental material to give you a truly unique sound. What really sets them apart the most is the Bandlab Assistant - a tool made to effortlessly browse and drop sounds into your DAW.
NASA Audio Collection
That's right, NASA! The NASA Audio Collection is a library hosted on Archive.org of over 3000 recordings from actual trips to space and other happenings around ships, buildings, and equipment. The recordings were originally meant for research purposes, but have now been released for use in the public domain. Who wouldn't want the sound of an actual rocket taking off in their next track?
Samples From Mars
Samples From Mars is a New York City-based sample production label with a love for analog synths and hardware. While retaining a focus on capturing accurate analog audio, they also can't help but flip some of what they record into truly otherworldly samples. The Free Downloads section on their website is a great place to find excellent samples with an analog flare.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are samples in music?
A sample in music is a section or portion of one recording that is used in another. An example of a sample can be a snippet of a drum sound, melody, or vocal acapella.
Is it legal to sample music?
Technically, no. But there is a large grey area when it comes to sampling legality. If you'd like to sample a piece of music in any form without ending up with a cease and desist letter, it's best to get permission from both the artist and copyright owner (who are sometimes the same person).
Is sampling music stealing?
Sampling a piece of music is not stealing if done appropriately with the proper permissions. Sampling the music of others is often seen as a form of flattery and gives new artists the opportunity to put a fresh spin on their favorite works.
How long can you legally sample a song for?
There is no amount of time that you can legally sample a song without permission. Even if it's a two-second sample, you can still be held responsible for using content that doesn't belong to you.
Is music sampling bad?
Not at all! Sampling music is one of the trends that is pushing the music industry forward and unlocking new ways of music production for producers across the globe.
Is sampling music cheating?
Sampling music isn't any more difficult than recording a melody from your MIDI keyboard. Sampling is a skill just like playing the piano.
Is sampling real music?
Absolutely! Some of the best, chart-topping hits of the past decade were made using sampling techniques.
Should I clear samples?
Samples should always be cleared with both the artists or original recordists as well as the publisher of the track. Following this approval process will make sure that your hard work doesn't get taken down and you don't end up in a courtroom.
What are uncleared samples?
Uncleared samples are sounds or music from published recordings that are used in a new recording without permission from the artist and publisher.
What's the difference between samples and loops?
Samples can be any form of audio from a quick drum hit to a sound effect to a vocal acapella. Loops are similar to samples but are often drums, melodies, or vocals that loop perfectly upon ending - making it easy for music producers to work with them in their projects.
There are a ton of sites that offer free music samples and free sample packs, but with this list, you'll be able to bookmark some new favorites. Searching for a collaborative database to contribute to? Or maybe you need inspiration for that next section. Whatever it is, once you find the right samples and put your song together, you may need some help taking it to the next level.